The Passages and Great Couscous Of North-East Paris.

The Passages of North-East Paris.

And Great Couscous.

 2eme 3eme 10eme

Our explorations on foot during visits to Paris have concentrated upon the areas close to the Yellow Flat and the left bank and why not?  It’s a great neighborhood full of things to do and see.  But by doing so we miss the other sides of this never ending city where a very different Paris can be found.  There are countless neighborhoods full of people of all colors filled with sounds and smells of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.  It is vibrant, bustling and very alive.  And lacking in tourists. When visiting other districts (usually in search of a restaurant or food) I routinely stumble upon discoveries that surprise and excite me.  On the way to try a restaurant known for the quality of the grain of its couscous, I came across a series of enclosed small streets.  They are called galleries or passages.  I had no idea that the City of Paris has such a number of historical passages, covered narrow beautiful shopping streets. Relics of a different time when the city had more than 100 of them offering shoppers a way to get out of the weather, sort of an early day version of the mall.   They were so impressive that I returned a second and third time to the north-east of the city to explore them.  And to eat.   This walk will guide you through a number of those passages. Visiting the passage will take you from the 2nd district into the 3rd bordering right up on the 10th.  During these walks I enjoyed a very different side of Paris .

There was diversity of every kind, certainly in people, an enormous variety of food and things to see and to buy; from a roasted halal chicken to a 60-year old hooker in a fur and not much else whose forward come on stunned my bi-lingual 25-year-old son.   (Yes, Blvd. St Denis is a traditional red light area even in the daytime and has been since the middle ages and the profession goes on, if a periodic sighting of a hooker or a sex shop offends you then skip this walk.) Start in the 2nd district at the metro station Etienne Marcel. After exiting walk up Rue Etienne Marcel in the direction of Rue Montregueil.  If you are a hurry, turn right on Rue Dussoubs and turn right at Passage Du Grand Cerf, built in 1820 the first passage you will visit.  If early and you are hungry, I suggest you continue down Etienne Marcel to Rue Montregueil and turn right. Stop for coffee and an éclair at the famous Patisserie Stohrer (see the previous post on this historic bakery), Rue Montregeuil is a beautiful walking street and when you finish you can double back and then return to the passage. When you reach this elegant passage turn right and look up. This is the most beautiful passage that you will visit.  It’s fully restored home to numerous upscale shops and boutiques with apartments on the third floor. As an alternative to visiting Rue Montregueil you can stop at the Passage Du Bourg L’Abee at the wine bar of the same name on the corner of Grand Cerf and Rue Saint Denis for a coffee to start your day.  When you do exit, turn left when you find Rue Saint Denis.  Turn right and continue on to Passage De La Trinite. Look inside, it is not in great shape. You may or may not want to head down it towards Rue Palestro, turn left and then up to Passage Basfour until you return to Saint Denis, the backbone of this walk. Continue on Rue Saint Denis in the same direction. You will Cross Rue Reamur and continue until you reach Rue De Caire.  Turn left until you reach the entry of the Gallerie du Caire, a testament to the history of this garment district. It is the largest remaining gallery in the city. It is full of clothing designers and shops, the owner of whom thought I was spying on them when I took this photo and chased us down the passage. When you reach the Passage Du Caire turn right and head north until you leave the passage.  You are back on St Denis again. At this point there is a bit of walk to reach Passage du Brady, the last passage of the day.   I think it is worth it and most importantly it leads you to lots of choices for lunch or dinner. Continuing north you will cross Blvd. Bonne Nouvelle pass under the Porte De Saint-Denis where an ancient gate to the city once stood until Louis XIV built this monument to his military victories. Continue and the street will change names to Rue Faubourg St Denis.  At the corner of Rue D’Enghien on your left is Chez Jeanette a wonderfully trendy bar full of students, locals and strong drinks. On the right is Passage Brady. Don’t be put off by its funkiness or the crowd that may be lingering there.  Go in. You have entered a bus station in Bombay or Dakar.  Feeling the urge for some naan?  Homesick for tandorri or curry?  Need a 5-euro haircut or a cheap suitcase?  Then his is the place. Built in 1828 and a bit run down, it’s like visiting the third world for a block before you stop to pick up some Foie Gras or home-made ice cream at Julhes (also the subject of a previous blog).  A symbol for the area. At the end of the passage is Bd. De Strasbourg, which will lead you (turn right) to metro Strasbourg St Denis where you can leave this walk or preferably wait until after you eat. In keeping with the feeling of the neighborhood, we settled in to eat at Zerda Café. Renown as one of the first North African restaurants in Paris and praised by no less than Alain Ducasse and Le Figaro for the quality of it’s cous cous and they are right. It is a gem, light and fluffy.  I had a lamb tangine that fell off the bone and my walking compatriot a mixed vegetable cous cous that showed off the fine quality of the grains. If you are on a budget, especially at lunch, stop at La Bicoque. This family owned and run restaurant will feed you for under 20 euro. For 2.  Large portions good not great food with a north African feel over French home cooking.  Here is my 8 euro plate of kefta (meatballs) that I could not come close to finishing. Other eatings choices in the neighborhood.  We used to love Brasserie Flo, but recent reviews have complained about uneven quality and high prices.  Worth popping in for a beer and oysters to enjoy the ambiance in any case.  Around the corner from Flo were a number of small questionable looking African restaurants that I would love to try next time.  You are also close to the beautiful 404, set in a stunning 16th century home, where we have gone many times for their innovative Moroccan food.

Finish the walk at Metro Strasbourg St Denis.  Before you leave look around at the life around you and enjoy the mix of old and new Paris before leaving. Zerda Café 15 Rue De Rene Boulanger, -1 42 00 25 15

Ma Bicoque 88 Rue De Rene Boulanger,  01 42 08 11 41

404  69, rue des Gravilliers.  1 42 74 57 81

Directions from the Yellow Flat by metro: There:  From metro La Motte Piquet Grenelle take the  line 10 direction Gare D’austerlitz to Odeon.  Transfer to the line 4, direction Porte De Clingancourt metro St Etienne Marcel. From:  From metro Strassbourg St Denis take the line 8 direction Balard to metro La Motte Piquet Grenelle.

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